WASHINGTON — The taoiseach of Ireland told the Ireland Fund Gala on Wednesday evening that “the greatest export in the history of the United States is the American dream” and it’s incumbent upon all to keep American values alive and well.
“Every Irish person who sees the dramatic skyline of Manhattan takes pride in knowing that it was built largely by their forebears,” Leo Varadkar told attendees at the National Building Museum event. “…We are proud of the achievements of our Irish diaspora. And we are also proud of the contribution of our Irish citizens abroad.”
Varadkar lauded the American dream as one “that has crossed oceans and continents, inspiring men and women to believe it is possible to strive for a greater life, and leave a better world for their children.”
“Democracy, freedom, the pursuit of happiness, individualism – American ideas that changed the world,” he said. “It is a dream which inspired Irishmen and women to fight for freedom, for the modern Irish Republic we have today.”
“American ideas and American values that spread around the world meant that a young boy growing up in Ireland, with an Indian father and an Irish mother, could dream of one day becoming the leader of his country, believing that the time would come when people would be judged on their principles and their ideals, on the content of their character and the quality of the work, and not on their sexuality or the color of their skin.”
These, added Varadkar, “are our Irish values today.”
“We believe in equality before the law for all citizens, irrespective of gender, religion, race or sexual orientation. We believe in free trade and free enterprise. We champion free speech and freedom of association. And we are proud to assert that democracy and multi-lateralism are the best way of solving the world’s problems,” he said. “This will all sound very familiar to you, because these were American values before they were ours.”
“America was born to be a city on the hill, with the eyes of the world upon you, sending out a message of freedom and hope to all who could see it. This great country became the land of the free, the nation founded by pilgrims seeking to practice their religion freely, where Lincoln fought a war to end slavery, and where the greatest generation defeated facism. The home of the brave, which raised the Iron Curtain and freed millions from communism. The dream which first made America great was passed from generation to generation.”
Varadkar noted that in “each new era, when faced with great new challenges, America responded by becoming greater, again and again.”
“It was here in the United States, in New York City at Stonewall, that citizens made a call for freedom that lit a spark that resonated around the world. A country that welcomed migrants from all over the world – Jews, Catholics, Irish – and so many more who were drawn to your beacon of hope. These are the values that inspired me growing up,” he said. “This was what your founders intended. The American dream was designed to travel the world.”
Varadkar stressed that America’s story shows “how the dream of freedom, opportunity, and hope for all citizens – regardless of race, gender, sexuality or religion – must always survive.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, in these challenging times it is our responsibility to keep that dream alive,” he added. “The celestial fire that has inspired people around the world will never be extinguished, because the American dream has now become a universal one.”
Varadkar, the first gay prime minister of Ireland, is scheduled to meet Friday morning with Vice President Mike Pence; the traditionally open St. Patrick’s Day breakfast has been closed to the press with no joint remarks, a decision Irish media said came from Pence’s office. “If I have the opportunity I’ll certainly be mentioning the wider issue of equal rights and freedoms for LGBT,” Varadkar told reporters Wednesday.